State-istics and the challenges of representing global higher ed

The globalization of higher education and research is starting to become represented in some insightful graphic formats, as we hinted in our November entry ‘Global geographies of R&D‘. This said the creators of graphic representations are stymied by what Peter Taylor at Loughborough University deems state-istics; the fact that many of the statistics analysts use are created by national governments (for even multilateral agencies like the OECD or the World Bank need to draw out their data from member nations). As Taylor notes, though in relation to the challenges of acquiring data on the relations between ‘global cities‘:

The common term for social data is ‘statistics’ a term that derives directly from the word state. This is, of course, no accident: large-scale data collection on human activities has its origins in state needs and continues to be dominated by states: hence my portrayal of it as state-istics.

Unlike the natural sciences, within social science there is little or no ‘big science’ where very large sums of money are committed to solving theoretical problems. The latter enables natural scientists to concentrate on developing measurements specifically designed for their theoretical purposes. In social science, most data that is collected relates to small-scale cumulative scientific activity. To get an evidential handle on big issues, researchers normally rely on the statistics that are available, that is to say, already collected. Collection is carried out usually by a state agency for the particular needs of government policy, not, of course, for social science research. But the problem is much more than the possibility of having to use unsuitable data. Basing ‘big social science’ on state-istics means that the state defines the basic dimensions of the leading edge ‘macro’ social research and therefore the framework within which most social research is conducted.

Transnational higher education challenges us all, for networks and flows cross national borders, in often untracked ways, and many of the key movers and shakers in this unsettled context are select institutions, or city-regions, but certainly not national spaces.

In GlobalHigherEd we’ll be seeking to profile, and develop, new forms of graphic representations that are beyond state-istics. This said, analysts carry on, using the data they can, perhaps innovating via the development of new geovisualization techniques, or through the creation of open access sites.

A variety of geographers from the University of Sheffield, along with a physicist from the University of Michigan, have created the fantastic open access Worldmapper site. Their maps are cartograms, which are based upon national political boundaries, but the scale of the national territories reflects each nation’s relative weight (which also varies depending on the theme being examined). See this Worldmapper link to watch a brief animation that conveys, very effectively, how cartograms work.

Here are two of dozens of available maps on the Worldmapper website, with an associated description from the Worldmapper site as well. Fascinating stuff, though my reactions to even these two maps vary enormously depending on what identity and citizenship perspectives I adopt.

Science Growth

Summary: Territory size shows the proportion of the number of extra scientific papers that were published in 2001 compared with 1990, whose authors work there.

Detail: This map shows the growth in scientific research of territories between 1990 and 2001. If there was no increase in scientific publications that territory has no area on the map.

In 1990, 80 scientific papers were published per million people living in the world, this increased to 106 per million by 2001. This increase was experienced primarily in territories with strong existing scientific research. However, the United States, with the highest total publications in 2001, experienced a smaller increase since 1990 than that in Japan, China, Germany and the Republic of Korea. Singapore had the greatest per person increase in scientific publications.

Women not in Tertiary Education

Summary: Territory size is proportional to the excess male over female enrolment in tertiary education there.

Detail: Where most girls get a secondary education, more women than men subsequently enrol in tertiary education. Exceptions are Japan where 46% of tertiary students are female, and the Republic of Korea with 34%. Where fewer girls than boys get a secondary education, the ratio of females to males is usually worse at tertiary level. Where many do not even get a primary education, of those that make it to tertiary level even fewer are female. In Central Africa, Northern Africa, Southern Asia and Southeastern Africa, gender differences begin in primary school.

In 122 territories women’s enrolment in tertiary education is the same or greater than that of men, making the overall numbers of male and female students equal.

Kris Olds

2 thoughts on “State-istics and the challenges of representing global higher ed

  1. Pingback: State-istics and the challenges of representing global higher ed « GSED - Global Studies in Education Digest

  2. Pingback: State-istics and the challenges of representing global higher ed « GSED - Global Studies in Education Digest

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